A Whale of a Time!

An Englewood family combines fun and games with age-old customs to celebrate their son’s first birthday.



Photography by Story by Mia

Mapping a career path isn’t something toddlers do, but Pax Cho presumably figured out his future already— and he just celebrated his first birthday. For many Korean families, like the Chos of Englewood, commemorating a child’s first birthday means more than throwing a party with sweets and streamers.

“Centuries ago, it was harder for babies to make it past their first year,” explains Monica Sunwoo, Pax’s mother. “So when a child did meet that milestone, it was a big deal, and Korean families would celebrate with a Doljanchi (a blessing for good fortune on a child’s first birthday). Times have certainly changed since then, and the tradition has evolved into something more light-hearted.”

Having previously organized a Doljanchi for her first child, Celine, Sunwoo wanted to work with a professional planner for her son’s celebration. So she presented a couple of his beloved possessions—a plush whale and nautical-themed blanket—to Hannah Choi, owner of Little Confetti Events, for inspiration. Choi, who specializes in Korean first birthday parties, went right to work. “The whole process took about six months—from booking the venue and entertainment to prepping the decorations,” she explains. “It’s kind of like planning a wedding, because most families invite 80 to 100 guests. You have to find a venue that can accommodate so many people, and they usually book quickly.” The family selected the spacious Fleming’s Steakhouse in Edgewater, where, according to Sunwoo, “everyone had so much fun, we didn’t want to leave!”

Keeping typical Doljanchi traditions in mind, Choi arranged Pax’s party to revolve around two focal points. The first was the main table, which held most of the nautical-themed decorations and desserts. (Choi displayed whale-shaped place cards and served cakes with blue “ocean wave” frosting, for instance.)

The second part of the event was the Doljabi, a fortune-telling ceremony where a selection of meaningful items was laid out in front of Pax. According to Korean culture, whichever item the child “chooses” first predicts his or her future. The traditional items have changed over the years—strands of rope, which represent a long life, have been substituted with more modern choices like stethoscopes and dollar bills to predict the baby’s career path.

Choi took the celebration a step further, creating a raffle for the adults. The names of each guest were placed into jars that correspond with each item. After Pax chose his item, a guest’s name was pulled from the corresponding jar. The winner received a special prize, provided by Pax’s mom and dad. “I’ve seen everything from $25 Amazon gift cards to Tiffany & Co. jewelry and iPads given out to the winners!” Choi says. “No matter the prize, everyone enjoys taking part in the festivities.”

So what is Pax’s fortune? Clad in a turquoise traditional Korean robe, he chose a bowl of rice (representing abundance) and a pencil (intelligence), over other items such as a microphone and $20 bill. But on that day, Pax was unconcerned about the future. Instead, he enjoyed a frosted cookie from the long table of goodies and the shower of hugs from friends and family.

Party planner Hannah Choi topped Pax Cho’s three-tier birthday cake with a replica of the boy’s favorite whale

As part of a traditional Doljabi portion of the party, 1-year-old Pax selects an item that “predicts” his future career path; Pax’s family (sister Celine, mother Monica and father Jimmy) is all smiles

Nautical-themed desserts and whale place cards adorn the guest tables

Younger guests are entertained by balloon art and face painting.

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